In recent weeks, much of the world’s attention (at least those with an interest in fgm) has been drawn to a hitherto unknown Muslim sect in India, called the Dawoodi Bohra. Three individuals within the Dawoodi diaspora community in Australia were sentenced a few weeks ago in a most bizarre case involving supposed female genital mutilation (fgm) inflicted on two young girls. There was no evidence of any kind of tissue removal or scarring – the prosecution based its case on wiretappings apparently of conversations involving the alleged adult perpetrators conspiring to commit fgm on the girls. Since then, I have received several letters from individuals within the Dawoodi community in India and in the diaspora as well as those who know and interact closely with them. They express the same horror, shame and sense of persecution that many affected women in African communities experience as a result of extremist antifgm campaigns. They are perplexed by the intense focus on a minor, virtually unseen cut on the clitoral hood of a young girl while the world ignores the full circumcision of the foreskin of boys in their community and worldwide. Why is the female type considered “mutilation” and "patriarchal" and the other male type considered “circumcision” and unproblematic for feminists? I recently gave a public lecture at a Georgetown University speaker series on my own ideas regarding this asymmetrical treatment of female versus male circumcision, which I will soon publish. My academic mentor, Professor Richard Shweder, has also written a powerful essay on this topic that is open access (The Goose and the Gander). For this week, I want to reprint one of the letters I received from someone who is lives in close proximity with the Dawoodi Bohra in Gujarat, India.
Thank you so much for replying. I am an avid reader of your articles and I agree with your views.
As far the Dawoodi Bohras are concerned, they are amongst the richest and the most educated communities in India and many of them also live in western countries. They have their origins in Yemen and came to India for trade a few centuries ago. Unlike the other Moslems in India, these people are liberal and allow their daughters the freedom to choose any profession and pursue their dreams.
Nobody knew that they practice [female circumcision] until a few years ago when a few women spoke out. Since then there has been a strong protest from the community against the practice. They make no distinction between hood removal and infibulation. The practice of [female circumcision] is so secretly carried out that not even the fathers and the brothers of the girls are told about it. Most Bohra men are unaware of the fact that most of their female relatives have been circumcised.
Some of these women compare their experiences with that of Waris Dirie and claim that they cannot experience any sexual pleasure. This is definitely not true since the removal of clitoral hood is exactly analogous to male circumcision, which these women accept without any qualms. And some of the women from the community who practice this ritual are themselves highly educated doctors. There are highly qualified doctors from the community who perform this surgery with sterile tools in posh hospitals. Even Bohra girls who live in western countries are brought to India to undergo the procedure.
I think it's the publicity they receive that has prompted most of these women to "speak out" against this practice. Many Bohra journalists who were nothing more than mediocre are now among the most widely read. Bohra writers whose columns were rarely read are now treated like celebrities. And all this because they write about the "agony" they feel daily due to their circumcision. These women want gender equality only when it suits them and I can clearly see how biased they are. They seek donations to fund their cause and receive millions in charity every year.
I look forward to hearing more from you.
My sister Sunju and I recently launched the Ain’t I a Woman gofundme fundraising campaign. The purpose is to raise awareness about the injustice and discrimination faced by women and girls in our affected communities, to stand up for and give voice to our marginalized mothers, to build global networks among our different ethnic and religious groups, and to dismantle decades of myths about our cultures, our bodies, our sexuality and our identities as women.
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